Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Skipper Miley knows the price
of success is lots of hard work

The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Dave Miley's office looks like nobody works there. It's as big as the master bedroom in a $300,000 house. Miley has a desk, a personal computer, a phone and a printer. He has a corkboard with a pocket-sized Reds schedule tacked to it. On one corner of the desk, Miley has a small plaster statue of a mother and child. The statue might have some significance, if Miley knew where it came from. Miley doesn't.

"Bernie brought it in," shrugs Miley, referring to longtime Reds clubhouse manager Bernie Stowe.

Miley says he'll begin decorating soon. Today, maybe. He's only been in there since July. "I have lots of stuff I can bring in," he says.

For now, the space is nice, but unadorned. No pretense. Like him. Like his team.

What a bunch of dirty shirts these Reds are. Sometimes, Rick Stowe will wash Jason LaRue's uniform three times, just to get the game dirt off. The Reds clubhouse manager will drop in a tab of Protein Release to loosen the pine tar gobs from LaRue's jersey, mix in some heavy-duty detergent to attack the grass stain and then let the whole mess pickle overnight in the washing machine.

Stowe calls LaRue "Pigpen."

In the eighth inning of a 4-4 game Monday night, the Houston Astros had Jose Vizcaino on first base and nobody out, when LaRue blocked a pitch in the dirt. It bounced away to LaRue's left, into the grass. Vizcaino bolted for second. LaRue retrieved the ball and threw it so hard, his momentum drove his face into the sod, as if he were pile-driven. Pigpen threw out Vizcaino by a whisper.

Instead of having a runner at second and nobody out, in the eighth inning of a tie game, Houston had no runners on and one out. In the Reds' eighth, Barry Larkin sent a line drive to the gap in left center field. A sure double, if Larkin coasts. Which he could. Man's 40 years old. In baseball, Larkin's an early-bird-special kind of guy.

He doesn't coast. Larkin motors, seeking a triple. Triples don't give you any admiration time. With triples, you just run fast and slide hard. Triples are dirty-shirt plays all the way.

Larkin's triple made the Astros walk Sean Casey intentionally. Then with one out, Austin Kearns decided things with a three-run homer. The Astros, filled with big names and all but awarded a postseason spot already, had been swept in four games by a team that seems perpetually scraped at the knee.

It's a strange alchemy that binds a group of big-ego rich guys to a manager working his first full major-league season.

Dave Miley has done the best any manager can do: He has created an atmosphere in which his players are relaxed and willing to put in an honest night's work.

"So many of these guys have played for me" in the minors, Miley said. "They know what I expect."

His players have adopted his style and his personality. A man who works 14 years in the minor leagues knows what it's like to scrape dirt from his fingernails. The trick is convincing your players to get the same feeling.

"I'm very satisfied in that what we tried to accomplish in spring training, guys are doing on a daily basis" is as much as Miley is willing to compliment himself.

The Reds might be a spring oasis, preparing for the midsummer drought. Their thin bench and starless starting pitching might do them in. "It's still May," Miley said. (Nobody distrusts success like a Baseball Man.)

Regardless, it's likely this team won't forget that a game is nine innings and that a shirt that stays clean is not one that has earned its pay. Pigpen LaRue's shirts will wear out those washing machines.

And Dave Miley, an unadorned kind of guy, probably will never put anything in his office but lots of hours.


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